By Cryss Walker

(CBS DETROIT) – Schools are known to be a foundation in the community. A place where children go to develop.

One teacher spent over 30 years investing in that development, and now his former students are honoring his life and contributions.

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A teacher can be more than just an instructor. Some are mentors.

Some are like the parent you never had; and some make an everlasting impression on your life.

“He’s the father to thousands on the east side of Detroit with a long career in education,” said Justin Payne, in reference to his uncle, Joe Cocker.

A group of former Butzel Middle School students say Mr. Cocker was all those things.

“Especially a lot of the males that were in class with me, they felt like it was they role model,” said former student Tiara Fullilove.

“Like an uncle figure, a father figure.”

Today the school bears a new name, Marcus Garvey Academy, but the hallways are filled with old memories of yester year.

He also taught my mother as well,” Fullilove said.

“So, I mean and she had stories about him like, memories she would always share with me. Like good things about him so, he touched a lot of lives.”

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Students recall finding Mr. Coker in a class on the first floor with chalk in one hand, while greeting kids with the other.

When it come to the math problems and stuff, he would take his time and break the problem down for you,” said Juanqain Rodgers, a former student and assistant to Coker.

 “He’ll break it down for you on the board. If you don’t get it while you’re watching the board, you can come to him individually and he’ll talk to you.”

The mathematics teacher retired in 2007, but students say the problem-solving skills he taught can still be applied to everyday challenges.

“Did a lot for the black community on the east side and he always preached togetherness,” Payne said.

“He means a lot to me. He means a lot to our community. He means a lot to our family.”

Coker passed November 20th from heart complications.

He received numerous awards for his service, including Teacher of the Year in 2001.


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Cryss Walker